You Have My Word on It

Is keeping your promises important to God?

I knew even as I typed the words in the e-mail that I hadn't kept my word. "Sorry to take so long in getting back to you." I had promised to call and schedule an appointment more than a week ago. Sure, it was just a small promise, but was it a big deal if I hadn't followed through? People break promises all the time. Some alter the direction of people's lives, like a single mom struggling to explain why Daddy left. Others seem minor, like a fellow employee missing a deadline.

Broken promises affect us in varying degrees. And when we break a promise, our words and actions are at odds. Trust is compromised, and our reputation is questioned.

The importance of fulfilling a vow cannot be overstated because being true to our word expresses the very heart of our faith, or lack of it. Let me explain the spiritual and ethical basis for promises.

Broken promises affect us in varying degrees. And when we break a promise, our words and actions are at odds. Trust is compromised, and our reputation is questioned.

Alignment with God's nature

Every time we fulfill a promise, we point to God himself. Behind every reason for honoring a vow is the character of God. This characteristic is expressed as His faithfulness, one of the most common descriptions (more than 100 references) of God's divine nature found in the Scriptures.

Today, we might sign loan papers for a new home or the marriage certificate on our wedding day. The hopeful reality for a Christian is that in each of these promises is a commitment by the Lord to supply us with His faithfulness to help us honor our vows.

Accountability before God

God instructs us in Deuteronomy 23:21 that we should not be slow in fulfilling a vow to the Lord. Promises and vows carry both a warning and an invitation (Psalm 15) from God. When we keep our word, God invites us into blessing and honor.

Quality of our relationships

At the root, faithfulness is a relational concept. For example, if you look carefully at the promises in Deuteronomy, you will see that God's conditional promises are framed by one main idea: Let what you do and say protect and nurture our relationships (Deuteronomy 26: 16-19, 28:9-10). Keeping promises protects our relationships with each other and with God.

A light to the world

Have you noticed how fulfilled promises surprise the world?

When I attended my nephew's wedding last summer, it gave me a lot of joy to see the bride and groom exchange vows with one another. I also felt awe toward the groom's grandparents, who had kept their vows for 50 years. When they were introduced, applause erupted and provided a beautiful affirmation of the power of a promise kept. A fulfilled promise gives a lost world a glimpse into the unchanging, faithful nature of our heavenly Father.

The Israelites' knowledge of God's faithfulness is captured in the word hesed, which means faithfulness to commitments with an element of love, as well as the doing of what was pledged. The covenant between God and the Israelites was done in a unique way, and it told the people how faithful God is. The signing of this covenant, referred to as "the cutting of the covenant," happened between God and Abraham in Genesis 15.

Any traditional covenant required that the two binding parties walk between the halves of sacrificed animals. The imagery represented the commitment of each party to fulfill his side of the agreement. By walking between the animal halves, each was saying, "May it thus be done to me if I do not fulfill the conditions of this agreement." With Abraham and the Lord, instead of both of them walking between the two halves, the Lord caused Abraham to fall asleep. Then He made the covenant with himself, sending a smoking fire pot through the halves of the sacrifices. In effect, God was saying, "The provision for you to fulfill your promises to Me is found in Me alone" (Hebrews 6:13-17).

We can strengthen our ability to fulfill our promises by meditating upon Scriptures (Matthew 5:37, James 5:12, and Proverbs) and God's faithfulness to us. Then keeping our word will be dependent upon the knowledge of God's character and our commitment to Him — and His to us.

Taken from Focus on the Family magazine, February 2007.
Article copyright © 2007, Focus on the Family.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Marc Fey is the director of Community Impact Outreach
at Focus on the Family.